With their deficit in the race for the postseason growing, the Florida Marlins didn’t seem likely to gain ground during their six-game West Coast trip - especially at the home of the best team in the majors.
Another win Saturday would move the Marlins to 5-0 on the trip, however, as the club continues its series with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a ballpark Florida has enjoyed lately.
The Marlins (50-47) were swept at home by NL East-leading Philadelphia coming out of the All-Star break, but they’ve responded with four straight wins in southern California, starting with a sweep of San Diego this week.
They also beat Arizona in their final road game before the break, and will now be trying to win a sixth straight on the road for the first time since they won their first six of the season during their 11-1 overall start.
While Florida trails the Phillies by 5 1/2 games in the division, it moved within 2 1/2 of NL wild card co-leaders Colorado and San Francisco with Friday’s 6-3 win over the Dodgers. The Marlins have won seven of their last nine games at Dodger Stadium, including three of four last July.
Outstanding pitching has been the key for Florida lately, compiling a 1.75 ERA on the road trip. The bullpen has been especially stingy, allowing one run and five hits in 9 2-3 innings in the four games.
The team will turn to Rick VandenHurk(notes) (1-0, 3.00 ERA) after the Dutchman started the trip with a strong performance to beat the Padres. He gave up two runs and five hits in six innings of the 3-2 win Monday.
It will be just the second start of the season for VandenHurk following a stint on the 60-day disabled list and nine starts for Triple-A New Orleans. The right-hander has bounced between the majors and minors the last two years, but he’s hoping to remain in the Marlins’ rotation this time.
“I just want to keep working hard, keep improving and we’ll see where it ends,” said VandenHurk, who has never faced Los Angeles.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, will be hoping for improvement from opening day starter Hiroki Kuroda(notes). The right-hander’s season was initially derailed by an oblique strain that put him on the disabled list for two months, and lately he’s struggled.
Kuroda (3-5, 4.73) has not completed six innings in any of his last three starts and has a 7.31 ERA in four appearances this month.
In two starts against Florida last year, Kuroda had a 3.95 ERA and did not get a decision.
Los Angeles’ lead in the NL West appears safe - up nine games over Colorado and San Francisco - but that hasn’t slowed down the Dodgers (61-35). Manager Joe Torre’s club had won five straight before Friday, and it is still 33-16 at home.
Ethier has hit in 10 of his last 11 games against Florida, batting .381 with 10 RBIs.